David Raynes – drug prevention campaigner

David Raynes – drug prevention campaigner

Posted On: September 15, 2011
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Comments: 7 Responses

David Raynes has spent years campaigning on drug prevention with the National Drug Prevention Alliance and the International Task Force on Strategic Drug Policy. Prior to that he worked for Customs and Excise tackling drug smuggling.

In this interview he talks about his childhood and how his attitudes to drug use were formed, his experience of the changing patterns of drug trafficking over time and why he believes moves towards liberalisation of drug laws are fundamentally wrong.

When asked about his own drug use, David describes himself as an occasional and moderate (alcohol) drinker.

The whole interview is 27 minutes long. It has been chapterised so you can skip to sections you’re more interested in. If you don’t skip, the clips play consecutively.

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The unchapterised interview, viewable on a mobile phone is below.



1/21 Who are you and why be interviewed here?

I’m David Raynes. I used to be a Customs and Excise Investigator. I retired in 2000. I had 36 years in Customs, around 25 of them spent dealing with fraud and drug smuggling. I’m also a member of the International Task Force on Strategic Drug Policy, which is a worldwide organisation of professionals, scientists, drug workers and so on, meeting annually. We believe in prevention, rather than liberalisation. We don’t believe that society would benefit from liberalisation and legalisation of the currently illegal drugs. My opponents would say I’m a professional drug warrior, because they become increasingly frustrated when I demolish most of their arguments.

And what do you prefer to call yourself?

Well I’m a volunteer. What I do I don’t get paid for.   My professional life now I’m semi-retired is international consultancy on Customs improvement and organised crime.

Can you tell me why you agreed to do this interview?

Because you asked me, and I was curious as to what was your driver for doing it, particularly when you say you don’t think the drugs debate is properly done. I’ve been heavily engaged in it for years and years, and I think it’s just completely over done.

And what should we be doing instead of having a debate about drugs?

Well, we should be doing better at what we should be doing anyway – we should be trying to stop kids from using drugs in the first place.

2/21 My historical involvement with drugs

In the early 70s I was the first heroin and cocaine intelligence officer in any organisation in the UK. I’ve followed the drugs debate since the late 60s. I’ve always been interested particularly in heroin and cocaine, which is what I worked on mainly in the 70s. I’ve watched the debate, frustrated about the way it’s gone. When I retired I was always concerned that the effort we were putting into interception and interdiction wasn’t having the social benefits people believed it would have, and I thought there had to be a better way. I support the National Drug Prevention Alliance because I believe that stopping kids starting using drugs is more important – the most important thing. Demand drives supply: if there was no demand there would be no drugs, and demand has gone up with the cultural change in our attitudes to drugs.

3/21 How government and media should address drug use

If you can stop or even delay experimentation, that is a significant improvement in our current situation. The problem we have at the moment is that drugs use is starting earlier and earlier, usually tobacco and cannabis and alcohol experimentation, but cannabis particularly is very, very dangerous for 11 to 13 year olds, and we have a situation in the UK where we’re worse affected by drugs, legal and illegal, than anywhere else in Europe; we’re certainly in the top two or three.

How do you think we delay kids from starting to take drugs? 

Well, one way is to give consistent messages as a society, and we don’t. We’ve had, in respect of illegal drugs, what I call media advocacy. We’ve had it since the mid-90s in respect of cannabis in particular. The classic example of a media advocate would be Rosie Boycott when she was, I think, editor of the Independent on Sunday and advocated liberalisation, decriminalisation, going towards legalisation of cannabis. That was immensely harmful. Well, drugs policy in Britain has been most successful over the last 20 or 30 years when the three main political parties have been together. “Drugs are bad, don’t use drugs” – a consistent societal message.

4/21 Society should be consistent about all drugs being harmful

The consistent message from society is that all drugs are harmful, and I include the legal drugs. I don’t make exceptions. The real problem is kids using, say, cannabis at 13 on the way to school, at school and on the way home from school. Those kids have become unteachable, and the worst affected kids – the very heaviest users, the one in four that are especially vulnerable – are incapable of being taught, and of course they opt out of education and they fail to reach their academic potential, they fail to reach their physical potential, they fail in life. And of course the kids that are not working, a lot of them unemployable and unemployed, a lot of that is the result of early drug use. Alcohol’s in there as well.

5/21 Why young people take drugs

Why do they do that? That’s peer pressure, to be part of a crowd.  We have to educate young people to be independent, free-spirited, to know that they don’t have to do what everybody else is doing. Early sex comes into that as well. We have a very high rate of teenage pregnancy, and unmarried mother pregnancy. Why is that? Again, peer pressure. And society has never got to grips with that.

6/21 My own use and early awareness of drugs

I remember as a young teenager people buying cigarettes in fives from the newsagents, and like all young children I experimented with a few cigarettes, but I’ve never been a smoker, so I didn’t really do that. But people did. I was keen on sport; the driver for me was sport and health, which it is nowadays for a lot of boys. Boys smoke less than girls, and that’s the driver – they’re more interested in sport, they’re more likely to play sport, they’re physically fitter than girls.

So you had a positive focus rather than being attracted to…

Yes, that’s part of it, isn’t it, that you’re doing things, you’re climbing mountains, you’re out, physically doing things. Drugs is sitting in and being…  I mean, pot isn’t called dope for nothing.  You know, sitting round stoned in a flat didn’t attract me on a Saturday evening. I used alcohol, but in moderation – a few beers. Everybody overcomes their distaste for alcohol.  I think Winston Churchill said “Everybody dislikes beer and overcomes it.”  I’m a modest real ale drinker now, and the occasional glass of wine, but that’s it. My father – he died when I was 12 – was very keen on physical fitness: a mountain climber, walker, cyclist; and that’s what I’ve done; they drive your attitude to life.   I was a child of the 60s, so drugs were all round me when I was growing up: you were conscious of flower power and that generation starting to use cannabis. I didn’t use drugs and I didn’t have any friends that used drugs. I knew people who took cannabis, but they weren’t my friends. I didn’t go to university, but a lot of the drugs use in the 60s was driven by people going to university and getting away from home and parental restrictions, as it is now.

7/21 Why poverty is not the driver of drug use

At the end of the 60s I was working in Customs and I became aware of heroin trafficking. But I did see the sad example of the queues of people with their prescription outside Boots in Piccadilly in London at midnight, waiting for the next day because they could get their prescription filled, and that’s terrible, to see that queue of society’s rejects, and they weren’t poor people, a lot of them then. At the time when heroin was being consumed at the end of the so-called British system, a lot of the people who were heroin addicts were wealthy people, advantaged people. In London particularly it was the socially advantaged, other than ethnic Chinese, who used heroin. And into the early 70s cocaine users, again, tended to be the socially advantaged. Not the case now, but it was then, so there’s a lot of nonsense talked about poverty being the driver of drugs use. It’s absolute rubbish because, historically in the UK, that wasn’t the situation.

8/21 The 70s, Customs and Excise and Howard Marks

I was in Customs and Excise and I became more and more involved in catching drug smugglers at Heathrow, and eventually I went into the investigations service, the detective service, and was more involved in that side of the work, which was targeting major importers. Criminal gangs in the 70s I wouldn’t have described as criminal gangs. People have a wrong idea of how criminality works. The UK drug market hasn’t been broadly driven by criminal gangs, not early, anyway; later, yes. The original cannabis smugglers were the likes of Howard Marks. They were university educated and quite bright people who believed in legalisation and liberalisation of, particularly, cannabis. You know, I knew him.

Did you manage to catch him ever? 

He was caught once by Customs but he talked his way out twice. He was caught once and went to prison in the UK, but he talked his way out twice by pretending he worked for security services abroad. He did very well, but he was a major trafficker.

9/21 Drug smuggling into Britain in the 70s – cocaine and heroin

Cocaine was trafficked by entrepreneurs, a lot of them, again, quite wealthy and highly intelligent people, until the South Americans got into the British market, which changed it. Heroin was driven in the 60s by the ethnic Chinese, who had always had a heroin problem. They smuggled heroin. In the early 70s the Iranians started coming over, escaping the trouble in that country, and some of them started bringing brown smoking heroin which we were very vulnerable to. There’d been a lot of injecting before, but we had a generation of young people who’d been brought up smoking pot. They smoked cigarettes, they smoked pot, so smoking heroin didn’t seem so threatening. Iranian heroin dominated the market in the mid-70s, and towards the end of the 70s the Turkish Cypriots got involved, and the Turks and Turkish Cypriots dominated the market from then, and still do, though some Pakistanis are involved now.

10/21 Working with the National Drug Prevention Alliance

I’ve given a lot of my spare time to trying to improve the quality of this debate, and trying to rebut the wilder suggestions from the legalisation lobby that society would somehow be better off if we legalised all these possible substances of abuse.

11/21 My views on legalising drugs

I think it’s fundamentally not in the interests of society. We have a model for drugs use, don’t we? Worldwide we have tobacco and alcohol, and it’s absolutely plain that that’s culturally driven. Tobacco use in the UK is much less than in, say, Eastern Europe, where 80-90% of the population smoke. In consequence their health problems associated with tobacco are massive. The Chinese, again, are smoking a lot as well. It’s plain worldwide that, although westerners like us are adapted to some extent to manage alcohol in our bodies, there’s massive damage from the legal drug of alcohol – massive social damage, massive personal damage, massive family damage. And it’s plain that there’s much less damage in countries where there is a social, legal or religious taboo against its use. Morocco makes alcohol, but has very little alcoholism. Pakistan doesn’t make alcohol and has virtually no alcoholism. So, those models of tobacco and alcohol are my backdrop for legalisation of the others. I do not see how we would be better off if we legalised fentanyl, for instance. Fentanyl is an addictive drug which is used in operating theatres, but there are people who would have that legalised.

12/21 Successful tobacco and alcohol policies

Well, we’re doing something about tobacco in the UK, and in much of the western world. Consumption has dropped since my youth because people are better educated, and the more educated people are, the less they’re inclined  to smoke. We’re having more social restrictions: one would have to recognise that the ban on smoking in public places has been a major incentive for a lot of people to give up smoking, and it has been successful. That’s the use of law – to reduce the social and personal harm from tobacco.

What about alcohol? 

Well, alcohol we’ve got a big problem with, we’ve got binge drinking, it’s cultural. We see other countries – the Italians didn’t have it, their habits are being infected by it a bit.  You can’t make alcohol illegal – it’s too embedded in society. But we could increase the age of drinking (in the States it’s 21 – I’m not necessarily advocating it, I need to think it through more) because at the moment people under 18 freely get alcohol, and there are some alcoholic products that are only sold to get people drunk: if you go into a Tesco’s you see White Lightning cider at 8%. What is the point of a cheap industrial cider?

13/21 It’s not reasonable to say people won’t smoke tobacco or drink alcohol

I don’t think it’s reasonable to say that people aren’t going to smoke or use alcohol. They’re too embedded in our way of life, and we have to be realistic and pragmatic. We can try to minimise the major harms of those substances, but whether we should incorporate other substances – normalise their use – I am very much against that.

14/21 Can people take drugs without harm befalling them?

People do journey through drugs use, apparently untouched by it, particularly if they start experimentation later, which is why I would say that if we can get young people, if they’re going to experiment, to experiment later, more or less in the university age group which it used to be in the 60s, that would be a major social achievement.

15/21 Sending mixed messages about drugs

But aren’t you almost doing the very thing you said society shouldn’t be doing, which is kind of saying it’s OK if you do it later?

No I’m not saying it’s OK – far from it – but I recognise the realities of policy. Our problem at the moment is that we give inconsistent messages to young people. When they’re going to use cannabis for the first time when they’re 13 years old, they’ve had a government in place that downgraded cannabis. Customs stopped interdicting cannabis, mostly, at the end of 1999, and the market was flooded. Can you tell me what it was about? Because the government’s put it back up four years later. What was that about?

16/21 Effects of UK Cannabis reclassification

Nobody really believed in it, other than the liberalisers and legalisers, and look where it’s got us. 

Hasn’t cannabis use decreased since they downgraded it?   

You mustn’t believe everything you read in the statistics. One of the things about the British Crime Survey, which is what I assume you’re talking about, is that for a while it didn’t sample use below 16. So if your first use starts below 16, and it’s starting earlier and earlier, that was never incorporated in the statistics. 

As I understand it, it’s not just the British Crime Survey.

No, there are some indications now that cannabis use has stabilised, dropped. 

And that’s actually within a couple of years of cannabis having been downgraded. 

You’re making a link there that people make because it suits their debate, but let’s have a bit of common sense. How many cannabis factories are there in the UK?

I’ll just give you my personal opinion on why I believe cannabis use has decreased. I think it’s because when they downgraded cannabis, there was so much information out there about how it causes psychosis and the links to psychosis that actually people suddenly realised what they were doing and I think that’s why cannabis use has decreased. 

I was part of that publicity, and if it has decreased or stabilised, I would tend to agree with you, that there’s been a lot of publicity, which I’ve been part of the driving of, which has said that cannabis is much more harmful than hereto thought.   That’s true. It may have stabilised, but we still have a huge cannabis use problem.

So you don’t think it’s decreasing, it’s stabilisingBecause I think it has decreased, and I think it’s because of that publicity, it’s nothing to do with how we’ve reclassified it.

I’m very edgy about saying it’s substantially decreased because of the number of cannabis farms, and because of the cannabis seizures – there was a huge one in Glasgow last week. There’s a lot of cannabis on the move worldwide, targeted on the UK. There are some huge seizures of resin. But the home-grown cannabis, the cannabis factories, that’s a new industry that’s started in the last four years.  That was more or less unheard of before cannabis was downgraded.

17/21 Politicians and the media are causing drug use to increase

If cannabis has slightly reduced, and it’s being used earlier, the consistent fact about the last few years is that cocaine use is starting earlier and is more widespread. In fact we’ve had figures on that last week. So I don’t think you can separate these drugs issues. They’re a cultural issue, and people are more inclined to use drugs than they ever were 30 years ago.  The UK’s got worse than other countries and much worse than we were. I say that’s largely as a result of a lack of political consensus, which I have described. Secondly we’ve had media driven commentary in favour of liberalisation and legalisation, which individually might not affect adults but does affect young people when they’re making that first decision. If there are people arguing for legalisation and liberalisation, that sends a signal to some young people that it’s not that bad. There’s been a consistent pattern of behaviour, from paid media advocacy, of trivialisation, particularly of cannabis, and other drugs. Trivialise, normalise, legalise – that’s their long-term objective.

Outside of the media, if a young person sees a friend smoking cannabis and doesn’t perceive that that friend is hugely adversely affected, is that not more likely to have a strong impact on them?

Come on, let’s get real. If you see somebody smoking cigarettes, do you see them hugely adversely affected if they’re 17 years old? The fact is that from the first use of a drug it’s very difficult to tell, and most people aren’t that adversely affected, but we know that tobacco causes all sorts of diseases. So it’s about perception. But we are seeing more young people seriously distressed by cannabis, and most young people will know somebody who is what they call a pothead.

18/21 Is drug use inevitable?

I went to my granddaughter’s school and heard the Somerset County Education Drugs Adviser tell parents and grandparents that drugs use is inevitable and there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s not true. Your kids can be kept away from drugs. They can be kept away from smoking.

If they know people who are taking drugs and they perceive in their very short term view that it’s not doing them the harm that they’ve been led to believe, isn’t there going to be a problem with them believing what else you tell them about drugs?

No, you’re making a leap. Because what are they led to believe about cannabis? It’s how it harms the brain: that’s all they’re being told, and of course smoking’s bad for you anyway. They’re being told that. Kids smoke tobacco they don’t understand about risk – that bit of the brain develops later. They believe they’re invulnerable, and that’s not just true of drug using, it’s true of all sorts of risk-taking behaviours. That’s why young lads drive cars too fast. They think it’s not going to happen to them, and they’re not accustomed to understanding and debating internally risk. 

Should you give them information and trust them to make informed decisions or should you say just don’t go near this?

Oh, I wondered how long it would take us to get to those terrible words: informed choice.  That’s the mantra that’s trotted out by the legalisation and liberalisation lobby. It’s wrong. There are lots of things in life where we ought to say to kids “No, that’s not a good thing for you.”  Informed choice means that we believe that they can make a sensible decision.  All those kids who smoked cigarettes and became addicted and got cancer – were they making an informed choice?  They were making a choice, but was it the right choice?  We can’t leave it to them. We have to set them a framework, a health framework, I don’t call it a moral framework: I’m health-driven, not a moralist, not religious and not coming from a moral agenda.  But there are things that are bad for people, and we have to give them consistent messages. Expecting them to make informed choices is the worst kind of absentee landlordism. You know, we can’t ignore our children. We should do more for them. They deserve better.

19/21 Is it possible to use drugs and live a functional life?

Clearly a lot of people do function reasonably well and still are illegal drug users, that’s patently obvious. Because the extent of the degradation, if you’re a cannabis smoker, your head isn’t right and it takes a long while to get out of the body,  Like we have many high-functioning alcoholics: Winston Churchill was a high-functioning alcoholic.  So we know that that’s possible, yes. 

If that’s possible, is it not possible then that some people can take illegal drugs and function?    

Well that’s what I just said, yes. Some people can function reasonably well. 

Therefore getting everybody not to use any form of drugs whatsoever – is that desirable, given that some people can function healthily within society and be good citizens and be users of what are currently illegal drugs?  

Well there is a question mark about whether they’re being good citizens. I mean if you’re a high-functioning heavy cocaine user in the city, eventually it gets you – like tobacco, like alcohol. But some of these things can get you quicker than alcohol would – Winston Churchill lived way into his 80s, or was it 90? Alcohol gets you eventually if you use it, and cocaine will get you. 

If they “get you”, you’ve gone into addiction – you’re not as high-functioning somehow?  

Well of course, because it’s a slow degradation. 

What about moderate people who choose to use moderately?  

What, they can use moderately for the whole of their lives?

I’m not talking about cocaine and heroin, which scientists have ranked the most addictive drugs, in the top five with alcohol and nicotine, I’m talking about, say, ecstacy or LSD. 

Alcohol isn’t addictive for most people. Nicotine is addictive for almost everybody who consistently uses it. Alcohol plainly is not addictive for most people, because it’s widely dispersed through society, and most people aren’t alcohol addicts.  

I beg to differ actually. I think most people who drink alcohol find it pretty tough to go more than a month without a drink.   

Well, that’s not my experience. Admitting to oneself that one’s got addictive behaviour is pretty difficult. Most people don’t admit it, even your high-functioning regular drug users don’t admit addictive behaviour. It’s a slow degradation of physical and mental state. And there are some people who can do it. But you’re using that as an argument, presumably, against having laws against those drugs.

I’m trying to understand your perspective, and flesh it out and look at it from other angles.  

Well if you flesh it out, these drugs are basically bad. I mean, tobacco and alcohol are basically very bad for society.  We’re stuck with them, but I don’t see the point, in social, personal, health terms, in normalising the use of any of the others.

20/21 Why we should not legalise all drugs / Why drugs should not be legalised

But what on earth’s that about? What is it for? Why? I frequently hear the argument “legalise drugs and you take the crime out of them” but that cannot happen. You know, 20-odd percent of the UK tobacco market is counterfeit, smuggled or both. It’s been higher; in Spain and Italy it is higher. We’ve got the real Italian mafia involved in trafficking tobacco goods to the UK. So legalisation of the currently illegal drugs will create a situation where it’s open house for crime because crime can always undercut a legal supply.

Isn’t  tobacco smuggled into this country because the tax on tobacco is so high?

Yes, a high rate of tax will increase the incentive for crime to target a particular country, but the tax is lower in Spain and in Italy, and tobacco is smuggled worldwide where the tax is almost non-existent.

So if those drugs are set at a market rate – I think Transform talks about regulation – that means then you’re eliminating a massive amount of crime and you’re taking the market away from the criminals.

This is absolutely nonsense. You cannot take crime out of illegal drugs. Criminals love use-reinforcing substances, they love them because it’s a repeat market and they can always undercut legal supply. 

21/21 The “legalisation movement’s” funding

I think the one thing that’s not widely understood is how much money has gone into the liberalisation and legalisation debate, which has affected all the cultural values of society, because the UK is very badly affected. The word that’s loosely used is “recreational “drug use.  In your questions you’ve implied some people can use drugs recreationally and not suffer adverse consequences, and obviously at the margins that’s true. But the social corrosive effect of us all using more drugs is deeply damaging and it’s being financed by big business. I can name names. I won’t name names, but we’ve had people in positions of significance within government who have apparently been working, at some period in their lives, for those big money interests. And I really need to say no more, but it does affect the culture in which drugs are used and decisions about drugs use are made.

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